Russian Olympic cross-country skiing champion Aleksandr Bolshunov has accused the West of blaming Russia for all the world’s problems, while insisting that sport should not be undermined by politics.
Bolshunov won a haul of five medals – including three gold – at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in February, but now finds himself banned from international competitions along with his fellow Russians because of the conflict in Ukraine.
Speaking to Norwegian channel TV2, the 25-year-old said he was upset to be missing out on major events, especially as sport should serve the purpose of bringing people together.
“I’m certainly disappointed that we will not be able to take part in the World Cup and the World Championship,” Bolshunov said.
“Those [athletes] who will now participate there could perhaps put themselves in our position. I would like to see how they react.
“People in the West should stop blaming us Russians for everything. Maybe we need support instead? Sport is peace, sport should bring people together and nothing more,” added the skier.
Discussing the situation in Ukraine, Bolshunov suggested it was far too reductionist to place the blame with Russia.
“When it comes to the situation we have in the world right now, I believe that all states involved in the conflict are to blame,” said the Olympic star, who also won four medals at the PyeongChang Games in 2018.
“First and foremost, this must now end, and world leaders must sit down at the negotiating table and agree on the way forward. I don’t think it will happen now, but I hope it won’t be long.”
In the absence of a traditionally strong Russian presence because of the ban by skiing authority the FIS, Bolshunov said international events would be “played without competitive struggle.”
Russian and Belarusian athletes remain sidelined from global competitions across a wide variety of sports after an initial recommendation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the end of February that they should not be invited due to Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Russian officials and sports figures have frequently decried the bans as discriminatory and undermining the principle of sport being outside politics.
It has also been noted that athletes from numerous other countries whose governments have launched foreign military campaigns down the years – not least the US and its NATO allies – have not faced similar sanctions.